Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

The compass and the horizon


As my plane flew into the clouds and we lost sight of the ground below or the sky above, I thought about a World War II pilot.

After fulfilling his service to the country, Bill became a pilot trainer. He loved to talk, especially about flying airplanes.

On more than one occasion, Bill would say that he could completely disorient me if I would allow him to blindfold me, seat me in a chair, and spin the chair around three times.

I never let him try that. I took his word that anyone who undergoes that experience will become disoriented and lose all sense of direction.

Bill said that flying into a cloud bank was like being blindfolded and sitting in that spinning chair. As we entered the cloud bank, I hoped we would soon rise above it. I also hoped the pilot was not blindfolded and that his chair was securely fixed in position. I did not relish the thought of a blindfolded, spinning pilot.

We quickly soared above the clouds and enjoyed a carefree flight.

But I remembered why Bill loved to talk about that story. He said that every pilot had to rely on two instruments and those instruments were not eyes and ears. He said a pilot had to rely on a compass and horizon to safely fly, especially in a cloud bank.

The compass is an instrument I understand. It always points to the north. Once I know where true north is located, I can easily determine the direction I am facing and the way I need to go.

As a young person, I prided myself with a good sense of direction. But I grew up in wide-open spaces. The position of the sun or the moon served as my compass. When it is cloudy, when I am in the mountains, or when I am among the skyscrapers of the city, I am lost without a compass.

The horizon is an instrument I am less familiar with. The horizon shows the relative position to the ground. It is another instrument that I have taken for granted, since I grew up in an area where I could see to the very edge of the horizon. The force of gravity is the only horizon most of us will ever need.

But as my friend Bill said, “without a horizon, you might be flying upside down and not even know it.”

We face storms and challenges in life. Do we prefer the instruments we call our eyes and ears to navigate life? The compass and horizon are simply metaphors for the spiritual resources that mark our direction and define our life relative to the realities around us.

When the disciples were about to sink during a storm, they used their eyes and ears to survive. They saw Jesus sleeping during the crisis and woke him asking, “Do you not care if we die?”

Jesus is the compass and horizon.

What instruments are you using to navigate life?


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